Noelle Mason (2010)


Noelle Mason

Neoteric Art by Jeffery McNary

In, “Bad Boys,” a solo exhibition of her work, Noelle Mason provides a close up, a look at notions of “hysterical masculinity”. “Bad Boys”, she writes, “is about the representation of masculinity, or the ‘drag’ of masculinity, and how this ‘drag’ is crafted through clothes, accessories, or in the aesthetic of the cinematic ‘gaze.’” But the show, currently at the Thomas Robertello Gallery, is about, and does, way more than that. Here the artist, in lieu of providing artistic clean table linens, re-sets the entire dining area with a critical complexity and, takes the viewer on a wild ride into a world of ultra-violence and horrific images often anesthetized on the evening news. It rattles the often vague, shopworn themes of an art world grown accustomed to just muddling through, and rolls, in synchronized fashion, through events and communities where you don’t want to debark or casually fuck around. One can hear the gunfire, just about smell the cordite. Ain’t no abstraction. Rather it trumpets a payment of artistic dues and dives deep into the pores of post-modernity and the enveloping flow of an increasingly rough and dangerous world accompanying the period.

“I am interested in the idea of ‘hysterical masculinity’ in reference to this show,” Mason shares. “The word hysterical being derived from the female anatomy but is turned on its head as the distinctly irrational behavior of men and boys who in fear of acknowledging their own frailties seek to expunge ‘weakness’ through violence and accessorizing.” In, ‘Nothing Much Happened Today (for Eric and Dylan)”,12pt. cotton counted X-stitch
32 × 40, the artist combines a cross-stitched work, a pixelated image from Columbine High School’s cafeteria surveillance camera taken during the April 20, 1999 massacre. Her five-year endeavor captures the iconic image representing 1/30 of a second of the event. It is prepared as a “mourning cloth or evidence”, and serves as a gadfly to reopening old wounds. There is a soft, shadowiness to the piece. “I started with the medium of cross-stitch, and was drawn to cross-stitch for its tactility, familiarity and relationship to the pixel,” says the artist. “The distortion of the image when made into a stitchery seemed to relate nicely to the low-resolution quality of surveillance footage.” Continuing, “As for the subject, Columbine just felt right. It felt undone, as if it needed more attention than it was afforded, I needed to process it in some way.”

“There is an exploration of time in the work. The iconic image represents 1/30 of a second of the event at Columbine”, she continues. “This 1/30 of a second became something much larger kind of evidence. Each color of embroidery floss corresponds to one pixel on my computer screen. This piece is intended to reopen wounds. Last time we closed them up we didn’t get all the poison out. I am trying to uncover something. The Columbine murders irritated the public conscience to ask why. I don’t think it was enough. Most people found an answer to that question that fit nicely into their worldview and then stopped asking. “Nothing Much Happened Today” is intended to make it irritating again.” A horrible dilemma, clearly.

With, “Love Letters”, 39 white embroidered handkerchiefs, Mason revisits Columbine’s ‘trench coat mafia’ via member Eric Harris’ writings. The artist carefully stitches the words and anger with black thread, capturing rage and fear in terms like, “No i am not crazy. crazy is just a word. to me it has no meaning. everyone is different. but most of you fuckheads out there in society, going to your everyday fucking jobs and doing your everyday routine shitty things, i say fuck you and die. If you got a problem with my thoughts, come tell me and ill kill you, because………goddammit, dead people don’t argue!!

For the artist, surveillance implied in the work, “Nothing Much Happened Today” is confronted again in, “LAN Party”, an instillation. These pieces, the artist reflects, “critique the “fetishization” of the surveillance aesthetic in popular culture.” “LAN Party”, presents video footage of U.S. Army forces aboard an Apache Helicopter killing Iraqis through via the scope of a model of a menacing, black Remington M-700 sniper rifle. Headphones provide sound for the episode, and through this, the viewer becomes participant.

Combined, these pieces, Mason holds, “expose the desire for public approval through the hyper-masculine ‘drag’”. “I come to my work from a place of fear and frustration. The sensation is close to sexual frustration or of not being able to find the right word, the inability to stop time or comprehend death ”the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon,” says Mason. “More specifically I am interested in how we project our fears and desires into cultural objects and in turn how these technologies shape the construction of identity.”

“Sonata”, laser cut on vellum, stems from a video of an Al-Qaeda beheading. Here the artist removes the visual content and instead reinterprets the horror as sheet music, and ultimately sound. “In Sonata I have remediated video footage of beheadings performed by Al-Qaeda over the last decade. The beheading videos which are intended to terrorize through the power of video have been stripped of their visual content,” she says. “The word sonata literally means ‘sounded’ and is the opposite of cantata or ‘sung.’ This transposition is akin to the translation of video image or written language into craft object. And thematically references the fantasy of masculine performance of power in the attempt to dominate through explicit exhibition of brutal violence.”

Thomas Robertello, curator of the exhibition, and an accomplished flautist is his own right, finds the pitches and rhythms of the work similar to a North Indian raga, with ‘evil energy’ at the end…in it’s rest.

The exhibition has chilling aspects, while consistently contributing to an aesthetic which pits aggressive acts often associated with masculine power against the soft, the handmade, the beautiful, the domestic. It sooths, cusses, points out and preaches.

“I am primarily interested in how we are manipulated by not only the content of the media spectacle but also the medium of computer/television screens. By changing the form of content and the spectator’s spatial relationship to content”, says Mason. “I de-editorialize the images that I use. This un-packaging provides an alternative space for contemplation of specific events and destabilized the media spin.”

What’s next? “I have currently begun a new body of work that looks at formalism as a means to understand the representational aesthetics of power. I have had a nomadic practice for approximately 5 years now and having recently acquired a studio I am looking forward to a period of experimentation with form and medium.”

Good luck with that. Surely, if we continue to look at things as this artist presents it, we are almost sure to adjust ourselves in some way or another.

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